Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, new service – how to switch colleagues from Excel to another tool if you are a techie

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, new service – how to switch colleagues from Excel to another tool if you are a techie

Hello, Habre! Contact Nadiya Kostyakova, technician at PGK Digital. We have developed the “Repair Optimizer”, a tool that allows you to quickly and efficiently form a maintenance plan for railcars. However, at the implementation stage, they encountered a problem — colleagues were reluctant to switch to the new system, continuing to calculate in spreadsheets. Today I will share the story of how we managed to dispel their doubts — and what the change management methodology is for.

Photo by Eepeng Cheong/Unsplash

Not much context

The first freight company is an operator of freight rail transportation. Our fleet has about one hundred thousand wagons. Obviously, each of them must be in working order. If a wagon breaks down on the way, it is immediately sent for ongoing repairs. All platforms also undergo a regular technical inspection – once every three years or every 160,000 kilometers. Repair planning is done by colleagues from the maintenance department (we call them “wagons”), and it is not the easiest task. You have to consider the type of car, its current location, the distance to the nearest repair depot and where it needs to go after, the longer the car runs empty, the more money the company loses.

For a long time, specialists of the wagon block used electronic spreadsheets and performed manual calculations to draw up a repair plan. With this approach, the processes were quite slow: new inputs from contractors and changing internal factors must be constantly taken into account – this definitely does not add speed to manual calculations. To help our colleagues, we at PGK Digital have developed a special tool – “Repair Optimizer”. He draws up a maintenance schedule for a month ahead and makes recommendations. However, at the stage of implementation of the “Repair Optimizer”, we encountered a problem – colleagues ignored the new tool, preferring the usual spreadsheets. All the same, it’s good – plans are planned, wagons are repaired, wheel sets are rolled up. But we have seen that the new system is more efficient, it speeds up calculations tenfold. In order to convince wagon drivers, to involve them in implementing the necessary organizational changes, we applied the change management methodology.

What is this methodology

In the 1960s, the American psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of acceptance of the inevitable, which are known to many. This is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, humility. Later, the model went beyond medicine and psychology and found application in other fields — for example, in business, where a person often has to adapt to changes. For this, the original concept was detailed, and the modern version includes seven stages:

  • Shock. The first reaction of employees to an innovation, which, as a rule, causes a decrease in productivity.

  • Denial. Employees believe that changes are not necessary.

  • Frustration. Fear of the unknown, productivity continues to decline.

  • Sorrow. Accepting the inevitable, motivation and energy levels decrease, and feelings of anxiety increase.

  • Experiment. Employees are beginning to understand the impact of the proposed changes.

  • Decision. Productivity increases because most of the team understands how to work in new conditions.

  • Integration. The final stage, when the new becomes familiar.

It is obvious that the process of adopting something new is quite painful in companies. It is not enough for the management to announce structural or systemic changes, it is necessary to help the staff to adapt to the modified regulations.

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To overcome the crisis of transformation in business, John Kotter, an expert in the field of leadership and change, proposed a methodology of change management. It is based on the research of more than one hundred organizations. At the heart of the model is the idea that if employees understand the benefits of transformations, they will contribute to their advancement. The framework includes eight steps: 1) creating a strong sense of necessity; 2) formation of a team of like-minded people; 3) formulation of the general vision; 4) discussion of new ideas; 5) bypassing obstacles preventing the implementation of changes; 8) consolidation of new practices.

In 2008, Kotter’s framework was used by telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson. At that time, the company entered the 4G market and went through a large-scale restructuring. During this time, top management held regular meetings with employees, where they set short-term goals, praised employees for their successes, and increased their motivation. According to specialists who worked at the company at that time, management played a huge role in helping to adapt to changes.

In addition to Kotter’s framework, there are other change management techniques. One of the famous ones is the three-stage theory of the American sociologist Kurt Levin. He argued that change for a person or an organization is a difficult path consisting of several stages of transformation leading to equilibrium. Levin’s concept includes three stages:

  • Defrosting“. It consists in realizing the need for change.

  • Movement“. Directly the process of transformation.

  • Freezing“. It is characterized by the adoption of new work principles.

In a sense, Lewin’s theory includes all the steps proposed by John Kotter, but is more compact. I like her terminology, and that’s what I’ll use in the story of how we convinced our colleagues to give Repair Optimizer a chance.

“Defrosting” of the wagon block

We show the need for changes

The first stage of the methodology is decisive, and the final result largely depends on it. First of all, you need to establish effective communication and overcome initial resistance. In other words, it is necessary to convince people of the urgency of changes by highlighting problem areas and possible solutions.

We decided to create a picture of positive changes. The economic effect of implementing the “Repair Optimizer” was chosen as the optimal indicator. We recognized the benefit that the company receives when switching to a new intelligent tool: the amount of repair costs when using the “Repair Optimizer” turned out to be lower than when calculating manually, because the new tool could take into account more factors (for example, if possible, combine current and planned repairs ) in order not to send the wagon to the depot twice in a row). And this became a strong push to realize the need. In order to convey information to the executors, we held a number of meetings, mostly demos, at which we broadcast a new position: “Repair Optimizer” can be a complete replacement for working with tables.

We attract like-minded people

Next, according to the methodology, we engaged in the formation of a team of like-minded people. The management of the wagon block supported us from the very beginning, but we had to attract ordinary wagon workers to our side. Here it is worth noting that we continued (and continue) to refine the “Repair Optimizer”: the tool must take into account new inputs from car repair enterprises and other changing parameters of the external and internal environment. In addition, we are constantly looking for solutions that will help us improve the overall efficiency of Repair Optimizer and provide a significant improvement in the repair cost metric.

At this stage, we emphasized that colleagues from the maintenance department are not involved in the development process in any way. As a result, they did not feel like part of the team, even though the tool was created just for them. To correct the situation, we turned to one of the stakeholders, who is ready to work with us and give a critical assessment of all the proposed improvements from the position of wagon drivers. We asked him to analyze all proposals of the Discovery team even before the start of work, in order to select only the truly necessary and valuable ones. Thanks to his contribution, we were able to relieve the Discovery team and get additional confirmation of the importance of the selected improvements.

A team of top managers of the railcar block was engaged in spreading the new vision — to completely replace Excel with the “Repair Optimizer”. For our part, we helped to conduct presentations and tried to involve even more users in the process of improving the service (more on that below).

“Movement” of the wagon unit

The second stage of the methodology includes the restructuring of processes that contradict the new vision. Practices are formed and applied here, which are gradually integrated into the daily routine. It is important to actively promote the established goals so that employees do not deviate from the intended course.

We remove obstacles

Even at the first stage, we stopped expecting that the specialists of the maintenance department would use the tool themselves because it works well. If at first, in order to move the process from a dead point, we emphasized financial benefit, then we began to explain to our colleagues that the “Repair Optimizer” is not only useful, but also convenient.

It was mainly emphasized that planning with the help of the new solution will give wagon drivers the opportunity to work faster and easier. For example, to form a repair plan, sometimes you need to calculate several scenarios. Previously, the calculation of one scenario could take a day. The new tool copes with the task in 10 minutes, which increases the variability of planning and allows a strategic approach to the future cycle of planned repairs. Several times, after trying to make such a calculation, colleagues felt interest in the Repair Optimizer.

In addition, it was important to us to make the new tool as user-friendly as possible. To do this, we conducted surveys in writing and at meetings in the format of brainstorming. In the process, people suggested changes that should happen in the “Repair Optimizer” to make it simple and easy to use. On the one hand, this approach allowed us to improve the usability of the service, on the other hand, we continued to involve ordinary users in the finalization. Indifference was replaced by personal interest in the product.

We are achieving the first results

For some time, “Repair Optimizer” and Excel existed in parallel: colleagues continued to use the tables, and we calculated the repair plan in the new tool. Perhaps, in our case, this became an additional lever for changes – month after month our calculator showed the best result, so the benefit of the “Repair Optimizer” became obvious even to conservative colleagues.

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We secure success

We are now in the phase of consolidating success. One of the important tasks is to make sure that users contact us to take into account all current changes. An additional complication is that the maintenance planning process is constantly changing, and our release cycle must be very short, so that by the next planning stage all improvements have already been tested and brought to prod. The release cycle for us is two weeks (once per sprint). In order to work effectively under these conditions, we look for opportunities to improve development practices. For example, we recently allocated a separate role of Delivery manager for planning and rolling out releases.

“Freezing” of the wagon block

The goal of the final stage is to consolidate success. Despite all the difficulties, the Repair Optimizer has become the main tool when making plans. What is no less important, the user base is actively expanding — for example, economists and workers from other areas of the wagon block have joined the system. We conducted research and calculated the consumer loyalty index (NPS): users have no difficulties in working with the service and are ready to recommend it.

For us, independent requests from users to improve our tool will be an additional confirmation that the “Repair Optimizer” has finally taken root. If at the beginning we mostly “beat” ideas out of them with long surveys and research, after a while they will invent new hypotheses and features themselves. And to that, I hope, we will get there one day – not without the help of a change management methodology.

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